Ness: Strengthen the System through Collaboration

August 31, 2015

Mike Ness, retired K-12 administrator and current SBHE member

Mike Ness, retired K-12 administrator and current SBHE member

K-12 and Higher Education can work together well, says former superintendent

One of the more recent members to be added to the State Board of Higher Education has been around education his whole life, and that’s given him a deep-seated perspective into how it influences and encourages young minds.

And, he sees a great opportunity moving forward for the North Dakota University System to closely collaborate with the Department of Public Instruction and the K-12 world from which he is coming and use that background as a higher education Board member.

Until June 30, Mike Ness had served faithfully as a principal and then superintendent of Hazen Public Schools in Hazen, N.D. Through more than four decades there, Bottineau, Stanton, Center and Verona, Ness has extensive experience in K-12, both as a teacher and administrator.

Now, with a seat at the SBHE, Ness is hoping to foster closer partnership between the two organizations to help ensure more seamless and successful transitions among graduating high school seniors who choose to stay in the state for their higher education needs.

Ness was appointed to the position vacated by former Chair Kristen Dietrich and was present for the first of the search advisory meetings that ultimately resulted in the committee selecting Mark Hagerott as the new chancellor. It coincided with his retirement from K-12 after 42 years.

“I knew I wanted something to do relating to education and higher ed was the perfect fit,” Ness said. “I felt that I could bring something to the table from my experience at K-12 and that’s really why I decided to apply for it.”

He’s brought that focus directly to the Board. At the strategic planning meeting in June, and later at the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee meeting, his thought process was centered on connection and collaboration between K-12 and higher ed.

“I think we can move forward with that (connection and collaboration) and work with some of the leaders in K-12 and they’re very receptive to that,” he noted. “That was the direction I wanted to talk to the Board about. We’re all working on the same issue here; we want to educate our kids and make them good citizens and we need to work together on doing that.”

Ness added that one potential start would be an inclusive approach that resulted in interdepartmental help for education-related issues that could affect both agencies. He said if there were issues K-12 was working on it would be good for NDUS to hear about, and vice versa.

He noted that one such data tool – the longitudinal data system, was geared toward that end, and so far had seemed to work well, stating the intent was to help create “a seamless system.”

“I’d like to see us work more closely with K-12 and with the Legislature,” he added. “I think those are so important, and if we can deal with those and move in that direction, I think it will improve relations with all citizens of North Dakota. I think they’ll say that this Board, and this system, are really trying to do things right. I think we need to work on gaining that respect and in making decisions because they’re the right thing to do.”

He added that within any system there were many moving parts, and NDUS was no different. He stated that while the Board was there to set focus and direction, the system employees had to be free to get that work accomplished.